Above: The Class of 1971 at their “50ish” reunion Thursday night. Photo by Stan Strembicki
That was the Rhode Island Pendulum headline 47 years ago this month, detailing the sheer bizarreness of a bunch of East Greenwich High School kids attending their fifth — their fifth! — high school reunion. A blink of an eye, in other words. Back then, a fifth referred to a bottle of liquor. This time around, on August 17, it was our 50th reunion, delayed by two years because of COVID. But after a half-a-century, what’s a paltry 24 months?
Amazingly, some 50 members of the 191-strong EGHS Class of 1971 gathered at the East Greenwich Veteran Fireman’s Hall on Queen Street (thanks, Mason!), the same place we got together back in 1976. Back then, the club was only a year old, and most of us were 23. Truth be told, the club has aged better than most of EGHS ‘71. It still has that splendid view overlooking Greenwich Cove, which looks even better the older one gets. Meanwhile, the Class of ’71, not so much. As a whole — and there are always exceptions — it has grown older, grayer, more wizened, paunchier and/or flabbier. Now turning 70, we have traded social studies for Social Security.
For the first time in our five reunions, it didn’t happen on a Saturday. Instead, we held it on a Thursday night. Back in the day, we called that a “school night.” Then, for three or four decades, we called it a “work night.” No longer. Most of us are retired. Think of the mid-week get-together as the scholastic equivalent of an Early Bird special.
Speaking of which, the steak and chicken dinners served at the fireman’s club were first-rate. So were the high school tunes played by one-man-band Steve Ready (EGHS ‘70). Putting together a high school reunion more than a half-century after graduation is no small undertaking, and Tom Bouchard, Keith Brown, and Mason Rhodes made it happen. We saluted Steve Hopkins, who trekked nearly 10,000 miles from Australia for the gathering. Stan Strembicki, armed with a real camera, prowled the premises, just like he did in high school. The class has decided to give the reunion’s $500+ surplus to the high school to spruce up the plantings at 300 Avenger Drive.
To boost attendance, we had plumbed the depths of the Internet, trying to find long-lost classmates, and dispatched postcards inviting them to attend. Few did. It’s one of the mysteries of the ages: some like attending reunions, while others don’t (spouses are a special category: their presence rises during those early reunions, but peters out after they realize how boring parties can be where you really don’t know anyone save for your date). But there is no logic when it comes to who shows up. There were just as many jocks, wallflowers, and nerds who showed up as jocks, wallflowers, and nerds who didn’t. The evening was a strong emotional tonic, as former classmates mixed it up with buddies, besties, and crushes, as well as dolts, drones, and knuckleheads. What’s great about high school, and high-school reunions, is that your buddies, besties, and crushes are my dolts, drones, and knuckleheads. So it all evens out.
Plus, age has buffed away a lot of the cliquishness that was as much a part of high school as study hall, driver’s ed, and drama club. There seemed to be a realization that what unites us 52 years after getting our diplomas towers over whatever perceived differences that were an occupational hazard of high school. But, truth be told, it was interesting to watch classmates looking for tables to dine at, buzzing around like bees seeking friendly hives, before claiming a spot usually amid their long-ago high school chums. Chalk it up to human nature.
When we last gathered, for our 40th in 2011, five of our teachers showed up as invited guests. Three of those have since passed away. Ace math teacher Mary Quadrini (known to us back in the day as Mrs. McNulty) was the lone faculty member in attendance Thursday night. Several others sent regrets. We paused to remember faculty members and 31 classmates — about 16 percent of our class — no longer with us. There were some muffled gasps as brothers Tom and Cliff Bouchard read the somber roster.
For just that reason, such events can turn melancholy. As we became juniors, chanteuse Peggy Lee released “Is That All There Is,” a bittersweet reflection on life’s shortcomings. “If that’s all there is my friend, then let’s keep dancing,” she sang. “Let’s break out the booze, and have a ball.” Indeed, the Class of 1971 kept the fireman club’s cash bar busy (what did you expect for $45?).
But one year after Peggy Lee’s lament, as we became seniors at East Greenwich High School, songwriter Paul Williams released “Time.” It’s a wistful look at the one thing that money can’t buy. “Time was a friend of mine,” he sang, “back when I was young.” Few know the tune, but it was the unspoken theme Thursday night. “Time, rolling into years,” Williams added. “Years that left me walking, when you began to fly.” Click here to hear it, and see the faces, young and old, of the Class of 1971.